It’s so easy to slip into cliches when discussing the links between the two head coaches in the Super Bowl, Sean McVay and Zac Taylor. Sure, there’s an element of “student and master” to this, but that’s kind of a lazy approach that doesn’t appreciate the twists and turns along the way. Instead this is a battle of two, young, dynamic peers who represent not only eerily similar paths to this point, but the direction of the modern NFL.
The story of these two coaches really begins in 2007. Taylor, an undrafted quarterback out of Nebraska, was desperate to try and keep his playing dream alive. After being released by the Buccaneers he went to Canada, latching on the with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL. It wasn’t long before he hung up his cleats all together, becoming an offensive assistant at Texas A&M under his father-in-law, Mike Sherman.
While Taylor was struggling to make it back to the NFL, McVay saw the writing on the wall. A receiver at Miami of Ohio at the time, there was no way he was going to make it to the NFL — even as a camp invite. A strong football legacy throughout his family, McVay looked to follow in his grandfather John’s footsteps, a long-time coach of the New York Giants, and eventual executive of the 49ers during their glory years. Sean went straight from college to the NFL, becoming an offensive assistant for the Buccaneers.
The two coaches took different routes, but mirrored each other. Taylor using his experience as a passer to become a QB coach in Miami, McVay doing the same with wide receivers in Washington. Both showing incredible promise as young offensive minds, and getting promoted to the role offensive coordinator at extraordinarily young ages. Taylor became the offensive head of the Dolphins at the age of 30, with McVay taking over Washington’s offense at 28.
Both were trapped in terrible situations, but still shined. Taylor was credited with developing Ryan Tannehill as a passer and lifting the Dolphins, while McVay did the best he could with lackluster offensive personnel under Jay Gruden.
The shocker came in 2017 when McVay was named head coach of the Rams. The youngest head coach in NFL history, the hiring was a huge leap of faith. While he’d done great things with the likes of Kirk Cousins, Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, it was still an extremely bold move.
There wasn’t nearly as much luck for Taylor, who went down with the Dolphins’ sinking ship, and returned to college football to rebuild his resume with the Cincinnati Bearcats. Then, not even a year into his new role, Cincinnati head coach Tommy Tuberville abandoned the team, resigned, leaving Taylor in the lurch. Now it seemed the bright offensive mind would be snuffed out, swallowed by a new regime and left out to dry.
Luckily there was someone who believed in Taylor’s potential. Saw the man who developed Tannehill and identified the underlying talent. Sean McVay had found his new wide receivers coach in Los Angeles. The real master stroke in the hire was identifying future gaps on his staff. McVay knew that quarterbacks coach Greg Olson was making a brief stop on the Rams, and would unquestionably be hired away, as would offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, who was garnering head coaching buzz as well. Taylor would be the perfect man who could step in and continue Jared Goff’s development.
In only McVay’s second season as head coach, and Taylor’s first as quarterbacks coach, Goff flourished and the Rams made the Super Bowl. The young team wasn’t ready to contend with the Patriots, but the potential of their young, offensive-minded approach was paying huge dividends.
The Bengals identified Taylor’s talent too, and much as it was a shock when McVay was hired by Los Angeles, it was a stunner to see Cincinnati bring in a QB coach as their head coach. The organization didn’t want to wait, and knowing they needed a new quarterback that Taylor could develop, stunned the NFL world.
Now, in his third season with the Bengals, Zac Taylor is now in the Super Bowl, just as McVay made the big game in his second year. Two organizations took leaps of faith to put these two bright offensive minds in charge of teams, but there is no doubt that without McVay throwing Taylor a lifeline, he’s never in this position — or even potentially still struggling to build his resume in college football.
The Rams now enter their second attempt to hoist the Lombardi Trophy under McVay. They’re now the old team looking to demolish the young hopeful, just at the Patriots did to them in 2018. At the front of it all are two remarkably similar coaches who owe so much to each other, and no matter what happens, both seem poised to dominate their conferences for the next decade.